We all have at least one, a summer when everything changes, when we first start to become the person we truly are. Every writer tries at least once to tell the story of one of these summers and the best of them connect us to our own stories as we laugh and cry along with them.
Director Greg Mottola’s last film was the box office smash “Superbad,” and like that, this is the story of young people at a turning point, told with sex, drugs, rock and roll and with some surprising sweetness. The mix is much more on the sweetness side in this frankly autobiographical film; don;t let the ad campaign mislead you that this is another wild and raunchy story.
For one thing, this movie’s lead is four years further along. James Brennan (“The Squid and the Whale’s Jesse Eisenberg) has just graduated from college and things are not going the way he planned. His parents have had some financial reversals. Not only is his planned trip to Europe with his friends canceled so he can stay home and get a job but there’s no money to pay his tuition at graduate school, and his parents seem disturbingly callous about how this affects him. He finds to his distress that an undergraduate degree in literature does not qualify him for pretty much anything, so he ends up getting a job for which no qualifications of any kind are necessary — working at a decrepit amusement park called Adventureland.
We know what to expect, of course. In just about every summer job, summer camp, and summer trip movie ever made there will be a girl of great sensitivity and insight and a girl of great hotness. There will be a bully or menace of some kind and a boss who is clueless or evil or both. But the humiliating lessons are more in the painful twinge than wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-20-years-later-in-a-cold-sweat category. The bosses (SNL’s very funny Bil Heder and Kristin Wiig) are not evil and not really clueless. They just have the requisite benign obtuseness that enables them to continue to run a business that (1) relies on children in unleashed frenzy mode as customers and (2) relies on teenagers in major hormonal crisis mode as staff. Mottola manages to avoid the cliches and create characters with warmth and specificity and — that rarest quality in movies of this genre — some grace.
James Cameron says he wanted to give the fans more than a 3-minute trailer to give them an idea of what to expect from his first non-documentary feature film in 12 years, the very-eagerly anticipated (by fanboys everywhere) “Avatar.” So on Friday he allowed audiences to get an almost-20 minute preview, IMAX screen, 3D glasses and all. And I was there.
It was not exactly what I expected, more of a fantasy CGI film than live action with special effects. At first it felt more like a top-quality game without a controller than a movie. But then I was drawn into the story, thanks in part to the detail of the graphics but more because of the voice talent — Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana. The movie opens in December and I am very much looking forward to it.
Here is the teaser trailer:
Forty years ago, it seemed for one brief moment as though a disastrous, mud-soaked music festival that attracted so many people it had a larger population than all but one city in the state could be the beginning of a new world of peace and cooperation. That dream was quickly battered but still lives on in the magic that its name and its songs still evoke: Woodstock. This week, a new movie from Ang Lee covers the impact of the festival on the community that was its not-entirely-welcoming host. But the truly indispensible memento of the three days of peace and music is the award-winning original documentary from director Michael Wadleigh. A new 40th-anniversary edition is being released this week with additional footage from from Paul Butterfield, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Johnny Winter & Mountain and interviews from participants including Wadleigh and concert producer Michael Lang. Whether you remember the warning about the brown acid and the interview with the porta-john guy and the nun flashing the peace sign or whether you have yet to experience the “Fixin’ to Die” rag or Hendrix’s stunning “Star Spangled Banner,” this is a brilliant film about an extraordinary moment.
Lisa Mathews and guitarist Mikel Gehl once wrote songs for grown-ups as the indie rock group Love Riot. But now, as Milkshake, they write lively and singable songs for children. I spoke to Lisa about the similarities and differences of writing and performing for older and younger audiences.
What is different about writing songs for children?
It’s a good rock song first. The melody’s got to be great, easy to remember. Simple isn’t dumb. And then the subject matter has to be something they care about and also understand. When I had my little girl I wanted to get her some music and I never bought the typical kid music, more world music. We were listening to all my favorite songs, Beatles Green Day, The Killers and she was too young for me to even bother trying to explain. And then when she was older, there would be a song with another thing I don’t want her to hear. Even though we loved the music, it was the words that were the problem. I was writing her songs from the beginning, counting songs, alphabet songs.
Do you consider the Milkshake songs rock?
We write in all kinds of genres, whatever befits the song, Cajun, Bert Bachrachy kind of stuff, a uke. We are treading the line, walking the tightrope between alternative adult rock and songs children can relate to.
Does your daughter have a favorite Milkshake song?
Her favorite is “I Love You.” I wrote that for her.
Was it a challenge to adapt to different subject matter for the song lyrics?
That’s the whole beautiful thing about kids’ music, the pallatte, this whole vast grand palate of subject matter that we didn’t have before when we were doing adult music. That tends to be pretty much “I love you,” “I drank too much.” Sports, being in a parade, imagination. Friends and family are a big thing, feeling competent is a big thing, knowing you’re loved. Feeling normal, fitting in. Our song “Enemies” is inspired by a book by Maurice Sendak called Let’s Be Enemies. Our song “Statue” is inspired by Mike’s daughter, who jumped on top of a rock and said she was a statue.
What is it like to perform before kids? They can be very enthusiastic!
They are wonderful! We’ve played places that as adult rock stars we only dreamed of playing. We never knew the definition of a green room before, but now we play venues that have them!